At their simplest, information services are, in fact, an extension of a newsletter. For example, Business and Legal Reports' Right-to-Know Compliance Advisor, mentioned in the first part of this series, is sold as part of a package that includes a Right-to-Know Compliance Encyclopedia.
Taking the concept a little further, Thompson Publishing Group has developed a separate information service, the Workplace Right-to-Know Reporter, to complement its newsletters, mentioned earlier. At the federal, state and local levels, the Reporter provides the text of laws, regulations and compliance documents, as well as digests of court decisions. The Reporter is updated quarterly.
My own company's information service, the Suspect Chemicals Sourcebook: A Guide to Industrial Chemicals Covered Under Major Federal Regulatory and Advisory Programs, represents a variation. We began with an annual volume, added a mid-year supplement two years ago, and now offer a quarterly update service for the 33 different federal regulatory and advisory chemical groups we follow.
Perhaps some of the best known and most extensive information services are those offered by the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA). Two representative BNA information services, the Chemical Regulation Reporter, and the Occupational Safety and Health Reporter, deserve special attention. Each service provides extensive weekly coverage including the full text of proposed and promulgated regulatory changes, plus a reference file with the full text of statutes, standards and relevant portions of regulations. The Chemical Regulation Reporter service also includes two volumes of information on hazardous materials transportation and a cross-reference guide to federal regulation of chemicals called the Index to Government Regulation. The Occupational Safety and Health Reporter includes a separate volume of judicial patterns, trends, and case precedent. However, you should keep in mind that both services are federally oriented. The cost of the typical information service runs about $300 a year, although some of the more extensive services—those offered by BNA for example—can be priced considerably higher.
Automated Information Resources
Another important online database containing regulatory information is Occupational Health Services' Hazardline, which is available directly from the producer. Hazardline provides a wide range of information on roughly 10,000 substances. This, information includes descriptive information (name, synonyms, CAS numbers, and so forth), chemical and physical properties, and applicable federal and state regulatory requirements. One advantage of having access to an online database is that it is updated daily as new information becomes available.
There are a limited number of online databases offering regulatory information, although there are numerous bibliographic and scientific files that are sometimes at least indirectly relevant to regulatory responsibilities. Online database directories such as those available from Knowledge Industries Publications and Cuadra/ Elsevier provide fairly comprehensive, up-to-date coverage of several thousand databases you can access. Many users prefer to have their own inhouse computerized database, and several of these are commercially available. My company, for example, makes the Suspect Chemicals Sourcebook database available on magnetic tape for mid- to large-size computers. More and more companies are moving into the microcomputer market, however, especially as technological advances have in-creased the amount of data that can be handled by small computers. Van Nostrand Reinhold Information Services offers this type of microcomputer-based system, a product called Chemtox, which consists of a number of diskettes containing data on 3,200 substances plus search and retrieval software to manipulate the database. Chemtox can be purchased as a reference file or in a format that allows the user to customize the database to suit in-house requirements. The database is updated quarterly.
Technological advances have now made it possible for very large databases to be accessed from your microcomputer using a compact disk (CD) and a CD reader. Two such systems relevant to chemical regulatory information are Occupational Health Services' Material Safety Data Sheet Reference File (covering all substances subject to federal and state occupational health and safety regulations), and ERM Computer Services' ENFLEX INFO, (covering the full text of federal environmental regulations, and a growing number of state environmental regulations). Both systems are updated quarterly or more frequently.
For medium- and small-sized firms, the apparent drawback to automated systems is financial rather than technological. Online searching typically runs from $30-$150 per hour; microcomputer products usually require a minimum initial investment of several thousand dollars, exclusive of any equipment you might need. Keep in mind, however, that the judicious use of online databases need not be prohibitively expensive, and that the cost of a system like Chemtox (if you are dealing with a sufficient number of chemicals) may be relatively cheap compared with an in-house effort to accumulate and update information.
An Intelligent Compromise In summary, there are five things to keep in mind regarding chemical regulations.
First, there are many different current awareness information resources available ranging from informal to formal, from cheap to expensive, from narrowly focused to relatively comprehensive.
Second, the single perfect in-formation resource for your company (or any company) probably does not exist. You therefore have to evaluate and select both the categories of information resources and the specific products/services that best meet your needs.
Third, before you can effectively evaluate and select, you need to review the characteristics of your business and consider how these affect your current awareness requirements. These characteristics include such factors as the number of people you employ; which, and how many, chemicals you manufacture, use, or distribute; plant locations; geographic characteristics of your market; and your budget for compliance. These factors vary in their effect on your current awareness needs. For example, if you only operate in two states, then chemical regulatory coverage of all 50 states would be overkill. In such a case, you might want to take advantage of a product like Thompson Publishing Group's Workplace Right-to-Know Reporter, which permits you to limit your purchase to the state segments of interest to you, thus saving money.
Fourth, once you've analyzed your specific current awareness needs, you can then move on to a review and evaluation of the in-formation resources available to you. At this stage, you will want to take into account such factors as coverage (what is covered and how well), how frequently it is updated, medium (that is, do you have the equipment to run an in-house database?), and, of course, cost.
Fifth, any successful current awareness program is going to consist of a mixture of information resources. Ideally, the precise mixture should be determined by the unique requirements of your business.
In reality, your current awareness program will be an intelligent compromise between your requirements and the many information products and services available in the marketplace.